Oxfam unveils action plan after ‘stain’ of sex scandal

An Oxfam sign is seen on a kiosk that was used to distribute water in Corail, a camp for displaced people of the 2010 earthquake, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Tuesday. (Reuters)
Updated 16 February 2018
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Oxfam unveils action plan after ‘stain’ of sex scandal

LONDON: British charity Oxfam unveiled an action plan on Friday to tackle sexual misconduct following the “stain” of a prostitution scandal but the man at the center of the allegations denied organizing orgies.
The aid group said it would create an independent commission which will have the power to access records and interview staff in a bid to stamp out abuse and impose stricter controls on employees.
“We are going to create a vetting system,” Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International, told the BBC.
“I’m really inviting anyone who has been a victim of abuse by anyone in our organization to come forward.”
Oxfam will triple funding to more than $1 million (€800,000) to improve safeguarding, while also doubling the number of staff in this area and increasing investment in gender training.
The new plan comes a week after revelations that Oxfam staff used prostitutes while working in Haiti following a devastating 2010 earthquake and a wave of subsequent allegations of sexual misconduct.
The charity’s deputy chief executive Penny Lawrence has resigned and three Oxfam global ambassadors including South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu have quit their roles as a result of the scandal.
“What happened in Haiti and afterwards is a stain on Oxfam that will shame us for years, and rightly so,” Byanyima said, adding: “From the bottom of my heart I am asking for forgiveness.”
Oxfam fired four staff members for gross misconduct and allowed three others to resign following an internal inquiry into what happened in Haiti in 2011.
But Roland van Hauwermeiren, Oxfam’s director in Haiti at the time and one of the three who resigned from the charity, dismissed the allegations.
“I have never been into a brothel, a nightclub or a bar in that country,” the 68-year-old Belgian national said in a four-page letter published on the website of Belgian VTM News.
“There were numerous men and women who tried to get into my house with all sorts of excuses to demand money, work, or to offer sexual services. But I never gave into these advances,” he said.
Van Hauwermeiren, who has taken part in an internal enquiry at the British charity, said he told Oxfam that he had “had intimate relations some three times at (his) house.”
“This was with an honorable, mature woman, who was not an earthquake victim nor a prostitute. And I did not give her any money,” he said, adding that he was however “deeply ashamed” of the liaison.
In comments to reporters at the newspaper Het Nieuwsblad, who tracked him down in an unidentified town on the Belgian coast, Van Hauwermeiren said there were “lots of lies and exaggerations” in media reports.


“The hardest thing is that my family has rejected me,” he said.
The charity has denied covering up the Haiti affair, which has prompted a drop in donations and led the British government to threaten to cut funds to organizations which try to hide sex scandals.
The charity admitted Thursday it rehired one of those sacked in Haiti just months later and is now checking whether any complaints were subsequently made.
Gurpreet Singh worked as a consultant in Ethiopia from October to December 2011, a decision Oxfam said was “a serious error and should never have happened.”
The charity on Friday said it was also investigating allegations of sexual misconduct at a hotel in the Philippines after a destructive typhoon in 2013.
Oxfam’s regional director for Asia Lan Mercado earlier this week told the BBC she was aware of cases of sexual abuse involving staff in Bangladesh, Nepal and the Philippines between 2009 and 2013.
Oxfam has come under fire for failing to inform other aid organizations of the allegations against its staff including Van Hauwermeiren, who went on to work for French charity Action Against Hunger in Bangladesh.
“We need to make sure anyone guilty of such gross misconduct is not able to move between different organizations, exposing more vulnerable people to risk,” said Byanyima.
In response, Oxfam on Friday said it would create a global database of accredited referees to crack down on forged or unreliable references from past or current employees.


Trump urges Republicans to fix family separation crisis

Updated 7 min 25 sec ago
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Trump urges Republicans to fix family separation crisis

  • Criticism has swelled from international rights groups, Christian evangelicals, former US first ladies and the president’s own Republican Party.
  • House Republican Mario Diaz-Balart said the priority of ending the separations has been slotted into a compromise bill currently under consideration and favored by GOP moderates.

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump told Republican lawmakers Tuesday he backed their efforts to craft an immigration solution that ends the politically toxic practice of separating families on the US-Mexico border.
Just hours after doubling down on his administration’s much-derided policy that triggers separations of migrant children from their parents, Trump braved frustrated and in some cases angry fellow Republicans to assure he wanted their swift resolution to the crisis.
While top officials have stood by Trump’s “zero tolerance” approach, insisting children are being held in humane conditions, criticism has swelled from international rights groups, Christian evangelicals, former US first ladies and the president’s own Republican Party.
Democrats who have visited minors in detention in Texas and California describe crying children held in cage-like conditions behind chain-link fencing, with no idea when they will see their parents again.
An audio recording purported to feature Central American children separated from their parents sobbing and wailing has also struck a nerve.
With emotions running high, a handful of House Democrats protested the Trump meeting, yelling out at Trump in a rare face-to-face demonstration against a president by sitting members of Congress.
“Quit separating the kids!” Juan Vargas, a Democrat from southern California, shouted as Trump exited the meeting. “Mr President, don’t you have kids?“
Republican lawmakers emerged from the 45-minute huddle energized that Trump was giving his backing to legislation that House leaders expect to bring to a vote this week.
It contains several of Trump’s main priorities, including border wall funding, protecting young “Dreamer” immigrants who were brought to the country as children and curbs on legal immigration programs such as an end to the visa lottery.
House Republican Mario Diaz-Balart said the priority of ending the separations has been slotted into a compromise bill currently under consideration and favored by GOP moderates.
“Not only does he support the compromise bill, but he backs it all the way,” Diaz-Balart said of Trump.
But even after the meeting, it was unclear whether Trump favored that bill over a more hard-line measure supported by conservatives.
White House spokesman Raj Shah said Trump “endorsed both House immigration bills” during the meeting, adding that they “solve the border crisis and family separation issue by allowing for family detention and removal.”
“I’m with you 100 percent,” Trump said, according to Shah.
Several Republicans have said the more conservative plan is doomed, and that Trump’s address was helpful in unifying the divided caucus.
“We’re going to have work to do” to get the compromise across the finish line, said number three House Republican Steve Scalize.


Unfazed and defiant
Earlier in the day, a defiant Trump sounded unfazed by the mounting pressure to alleviate the situation before it ruptures into a public relations disaster for his party.
“I don’t want children taken away from parents,” he told a gathering of small business owners, before adding: “When you prosecute the parents for coming in illegally, which should happen, you have to take the children away.”
Trump has accused Democrats of provoking the current crisis by blocking legislation to combat illegal immigration.
But Democratic leaders have pushed back. Senator Chuck Schumer said the president “continues to try to use these separated families as hostages in the legislative process.”
Calling for an immediate fix, Schumer added: “The president can end this crisis with the flick of his pen, and he needs to do so now.”
Senate Republicans are also moving to block Trump’s policy.
A group led by Senator Orrin Hatch wrote Attorney General Jeff Sessions demanding a pause in separations, while Senator John Cornyn was drafting “emergency” legislation to allow families to remain intact while their cases are adjudicated.
The United Nations has slammed the separation practice as unconscionable, while Amnesty International blasted it as “nothing short of torture.” Mexico’s foreign minister condemned it as “cruel and inhuman.”
The issue risks becoming a political nightmare several House Republicans who face tough re-election fights in November. Some may worry that public outrage over the family separations could hurt their chances.

Children used as pawns
Democrats say the crisis is of Trump’s own making, and accuse him of using children as pawns.
“This has caused an outcry throughout the country,” said Senator Chris Van Hollen, who visited a detention facility in McAllen, Texas over the weekend where some 1,500 children are being held.
US officials say more than 2,300 children have been separated from their parents or guardians since early May, when the administration announced its “zero tolerance” push to arrest and charge anyone illegally crossing the US-Mexico border, regardless of whether they were seeking asylum.
Since children cannot be sent to the facilities where their parents are held, they are separated from them.
Separated children make up a minority of immigrant minors in US custody.
The Department of Health and Human Services said there are currently 11,700 children under its care in 100 shelters across 17 states.
Most crossed the border without their parents.
US public opinion appears divided along partisan lines on the family separations, with two thirds of all voters opposed, but 55 percent of Republicans supporting the policy, according to a Quinnipiac University National Poll.